Dennis Marek: Who do you ask now?

January 6, 2019

“Grandpa, tell me about the good old days.”

Remember that song? More importantly, if you were lucky, you had a chance to ask Grandpa or Grandma about those things that went on years before but in their lifetime and memory. As you grew, you realized what a fountain of knowledge they had, be it things that happened in the world, in the town you were growing up in, or things about your own family that needed answering.

As we have aged, we lost those grandparents, and later still our parents, aunts and uncles. While history books can give us answers of national and world importance, those more personal questions were known only to those family members and friends. While often of no significant importance to the world or even your life, they were a query that couldn’t be answered any longer.

I spent my early summers in Montague, Mich., with my father’s parents. They retired to a rural area about 4 miles out of town, near Lake Michigan. There were two towns almost together, separated by the White River. On the north was Montague, a very Roman-Catholic town with Catholic churches and almost no Protestant ones. Conversely, on the south side of that river lived the Protestants in a town called Whitehall.

As I grew older and went back, we found a bed and breakfast in Whitehall and explored the same areas I had roamed as an 8-year-old. One of our missions was finding the graves of my great-grandparents. With the help of the local village hall, we found those graves and also the marriage license of my grandparents. My grandmother was Irish, but her father had left the Catholic Church many years before her marriage. The marriage license said they had been married in Montague!

By the time this interesting anomaly was discovered, my grandparents, aunt and parents were deceased. Who could explain this strange fact of marriage location to me?

There was one person left, my uncle, Jim Brown, who married my aunt. I have written of him in the past. He was an engineer and actually had pushed the lever that blasted off the rocket at Cape Canaveral, putting America’s first satellite into space. That satellite broadcast the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, wishing the world a Merry Christmas. (Probably a bit of political incorrectness, but it was 1958.)

Uncle Jim was, by this time, 98-years-old and in an assisted living facility in Florida. I always stopped to see him when we were anywhere near. About five years ago in a visit, I asked him.

“Uncle Jim, how was it that Grandpa and Grandma Marek were married in Montague, Mich., when it was a totally Catholic town?”

His response was crisp.

“Well, Denny, they were married on great-grandmother’s farm outside of town and had a minister from Whitehall come out to do the ceremony.”

He was not finished.

“By the way, Denny, President Eisenhower visited me again last week and congratulated me again on the satellite launch.”

I turned to the caregiver with a mild questioning look on my face. After all, it was 2013. He just smiled and shook his head. Ike had been dead for about 45 years. So, I want to believe the first answer and will chalk up the second response to blending those 50 years together. But who else was there to tell me different?

Then, three weeks ago, I read Jack Klasey’s article on McBroom’s restaurant. That was my other grandfather’s restaurant. The article said McBroom’s Restaurant closed in 1949. I did not believe that to be true. Jack had found a picture of the place on North Schuyler with the McBroom’s sign hanging out front. That puzzled me more. Grandfather had leased the restaurant to two Chinese men who then called it The Bamboo Inn. I knew that was in the 1950s, but my grandparents continued with the Greyhound bus station next door. Yet the picture showed an insurance agency in that location. Strange. But who can I ask in 2018?

Then, another mystery. There in front of the restaurant with the McBroom’s sign was a car I knew to be much later than 1949. I emailed the picture to car buff and friend, Ron Romano. Ron identified the car as a 1955 Oldsmobile.

One further memory. When we moved to Clifton in 1951, I would spend time with Grandmother McBroom at the bus station and read all the comic books behind the counter. Then, at the age of 9 or 10, she would put me on a southbound Greyhound bus for Clifton. The driver would stop in the road next to the Aloha Theater, open the door and watch that I safely crossed the IC tracks and was in our front yard before he continued south. Those memories don’t go away. But what were those years? When did they stop running the restaurant? When the bus station?

It is 2019 now, and there just isn’t anyone else to ask. I was privileged to meet a Mrs. Rita Des Marteau a week ago, who is 88 and lived behind my grandparents on Greenwood Avenue. I dared to ask her what she remembered, but in spite of remembering the restaurant, she had no further information on the dates. So, I just don’t know. Perhaps not a majorly important question, but I have that curious mind and something seems wrong about those dates. I just don’t think there is anyone who can answer my question.

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